Get ready to lower your expectations if you’d been hoping that President Biden would heed the call of some Democrats to cancel student debt up to $50,000 per borrower.
The president outright rejected that idea during a town hall hosted by CNN in Milwaukee on Tuesday.
After a member of the audience asked Biden how he plans to help struggling Americans weighed down by the burden of student loan debt, ideally by forgiving at least $50,000 per borrower, he simply responded:
“I will not make that happen.”
Biden’s explanation for being timid in tackling the collective $1.7 trillion in student debt held by about 45 million Americans?
“The idea that I say to a community, ‘I’m going to forgive billions of dollars of debt for people who have gone to Harvard, and Yale and Penn,’” he said. “Is that going to be forgiven rather than use that money to provide for early education for young children who come from disadvantaged circumstances?”
But the reality of student debt in America is a little more complicated than one of pitting allegedly elite college-educated people against disadvantaged young children (many of whom are likely to have parents hampered financially by the burden of student debt).
For one thing, Black people are some of the most seriously impacted by the student debt crisis. A much higher percentage of Black students take out federal loans than students from other racial groups, and they go on to carry more student debt and default on loans at higher rates than white borrowers—in large part because they have less generational wealth to lean on, and go on to earn less after graduating from college than their white counterparts.
In fact, Black graduates hold an average of $53,000 in student debt four years after leaving college, twice the amount that their white peers do, according to research by Brookings.
That helps explain the results of a new poll released by Color of Change, which found that 50 percent of Black voters support canceling all student debt, and a whopping 90 percent of Black women and 80 percent of Black men support cancelling even a portion of student loan debt.
A portion—not more than $10,000—is probably the most that debt burdened Americans can hope for in terms of student loan forgiveness. It remains to be seen if this will happen via executive action by Biden, or through Congress (where leading Democrats introduced a bicameral resolution calling on him to cancel up to $50,000 in debt).
“The president has and continues to support canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person as a response to the Covid crisis,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said, according to CNN.
Biden has extended a pause on federal student loan payments and interest, as part of COVID-19 related economic relief, that will run until at least October.